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Donegal loss the ‘best way to bring us down to earth’ – Derry’s Pádraig McGrogan


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Pádraig McGrogan must be one of the 10pc club.

“Well, you’d be daft to say you don’t hear the hype,” the Derry defender says. “Everyone hears it, but it’s whether or not you listen to it.”

For however long Derry remain in this year’s All-Ireland SFC race, McGrogan will not be actively involved, having ruptured his ACL at training on the Thursday after their Ulster quarter-final implosion against Donegal.

He will remain part of the inner circle but, like all those supporters wondering can the Oak Leafers rekindle their ultimate Sam Maguire ambitions, he will be a helpless bystander too.

Which brings us to the question about hype. After their pulsating penalty shootout win against Dublin to claim Allianz League Division 1 glory, Derry were the most talked-up team in Ireland.

Back-to-back Ulster champions aiming even higher . . . but then their gung-ho tactics on the Donegal kick-out led directly to three of the four goals conceded that evening.

Back to the drawing board. And back this Saturday evening to Pearse Stadium (where they won last February) for their opening fixture in the so-called ‘Group of Death’, facing three-in-a-row Connacht champions Galway.

McGrogan disputes the notion of a team starting to believe their own hype before the Derry walls came tumbling down.

“I don’t think that’s really what crept in to the result and the way we played against Donegal,” he surmises.

“I suppose maybe that result was the best way to humble us and bring us back down to earth again, if there ever was any complacency . . . but I don’t think there was. If there was, it’s definitely gone now.”

The group scenario has become clearer after Sunday’s latest Ulster final penalty epic, with Derry’s trip to Salthill followed by a home date with Armagh two weeks later and then Westmeath on neutral terrain in mid-June.

“It’s a tough group. Three teams qualify but you want to be top of that group no matter what,” McGrogan points out.

“We were in no control over who we were going to get, so we put in a lot of work on our team and our game. We’re looking forward to Galway next Saturday, big time.”

This year’s 3-10 to 1-11 victory for Derry went against the recent flow of results versus the Tribesmen.

“Galway is a team that caused us quite a bit of pain this past couple of years,” the Newbridge clubman reminds. “Obviously in the league two seasons ago when they got promoted and we stayed down in Division 2. They dominated us that day on our own kick-out. There was a gale-force breeze and they caused us heartache.

“It really gave us a kick in the backside, that we needed to look at ourselves, because we thought we were going decent but they just put us back down . . . not to square one, but they made us take another good look at ourselves to see what was wrong.

“Then obviously in the [2022] All-Ireland semi-final . . . Galway again. Obviously we played them this year but they were missing a hell of a lot of men, so you can take from that what you will. And a few black cards thrown into that game too, so it’s hard to look back on that game with any depth.

“Look, it’s a tough group, but you’re not going to get your way in any group. I suppose if you’re not going to perform in these big games and beat these teams, what is the point of being in the latter end of the championship anyway?”

More positively, one bad day against Donegal need not derail a season that still promises so much. McGrogan highlights how Mickey Harte “addressed fairly quickly” the issue of Derry’s previously shallow squad depth, giving game-time to multiple players during the league.

As a consequence, his own cruciate loss may not be such a hammer blow. Moreover, there is a ready-made alternative to step in, given that All-Star Gareth McKinless replaced McGrogan off the bench against Dublin and Donegal in their last two outings.

“He [Harte] knows the story by now. Something that he said that always sticks with me is that you can’t get too high or too low in this game,” the wing-back muses. “The minute you get too high, somebody knocks you off the pedestal. And when you get too low, you’re just no good to yourself or your team-mates.”

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